FIPP: Netflix on investing in African content to increase global revenue
We recently looked at streaming services, and the increasingly competitive marketplace in which Netflix now finds itself operating. Amazon and Disney are hot on the heels of the OTT trailblazer, with non-US platforms growing in popularity as well. But international content in particular has long since been viewed by Netflix as more friend than foe, and in the case of Africa specifically, represents a huge area of potential growth for the streaming service. Speaking at a recent Africa Soft Power event, Dean Garfield, Vice President of Public Policy for Netflix, outlined some of the company’s plans.
“If you look at it relative to other regions of the world: 55 countries, 1.2 billion people, the youngest population by region of any continent, the opportunity is significant,” said Garfield. “But we’re past the point of theorising, we’re developing tangible plans. We’re past the point of conceptualising, we’re actually creating in Africa. For Netflix, we recognise that great stories can come from anywhere, and be loved everywhere, and we can’t achieve our mission to entertain the world if Africa is absent.”
While Netflix is confident of growth across the whole continent, Garfield recognises that there remains an unevenness between individual countries. He references the company’s previous growth in Europe as a potential roadmap for success in this respect.
“There’s a rich storytelling tradition on the continent, not only in places like Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, and Kenya where strong infrastructure is already in place, but in other countries as well.
Part of the challenge is investing in the overall ecosystem and identifying partners that can help us to make sure that the writers, directors, show-runners and overall talent level is consistent with what our expectations are. We aim to not only identify where there are strengths across the continent, but to help create them in a broader array.”
“If we take our growth trajectory in Europe as an example, we really launched our service there about eight years ago. And we’ve gone from working in the biggest countries you would expect like France, Italy, Germany, and Spain, to now truly having significant production in all 27 member states across the EU. We’re investing on average about US$3bn a year across the EU and we’re employing around 18,000 people, but that was an evolution that occurred over eight years. We’re four years into our work in Africa, and so over time as we build the infrastructure that I’ve spoken about, you would expect to see us ramp up and drive further growth.”
The company’s dedication to the region is palpable. On the virtual panel on which he was speaking, which also included representatives from the African Export–Import Bank (Afreximbank) and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Garfield told the Africa Investment Forum (AIF): “One of my key action items coming out of this conversation is to make sure that I follow up with you and figure out how we can learn more and partner with the AIF.”
This commitment clearly works both ways. The Africa Soft Power Project itself is a movement focussed on how the continent can leverage its knowledge and creative industries, to help improve its own narrative on the world stage and increase wider investment in the region. Fellow panellist, Professor Benedict Oramah, President of Afreximbank, highlighted the US$500 million fund that it had set up in 2020, to help Africa’s creative industries monetise their content.
Of course challenges inevitably remain when seeking to ramp up not only distribution, but also production, in a still relatively untapped region. High data costs in parts of the continent mean that streaming remains expensive for many, and having solid payment infrastructure in place so that people are able to pay for digital services is equally important. Ensuring consistent intellectual property rights across 55 different countries has also presented issues, says Garfield:
“As regards intellectual property rights across Africa, there is just an unevenness around the rules of the road. So in the same way we were talking about the AfCFTA and having a pan-regional framework, that is necessary on the intellectual property side as well. We need to have some consistency across the continent, so that there is certainty on both the talent side and for Netflix. That is something we hope to see, and help advance.”